History of T.D.E.

Every day I drive my twenty year old jeep to work, leaving a puddle of oil at every intersection on the way. I eat my red meat bloody and rare with beer to drink, shoot guns and like the look and feel of quality woodwork. I enjoy a bonfire and will always prefer the feel of old wool blankets on bare skin. I like eating mangoes in the middle of winter and throw my orange peals on the road.

I will never pass myself as perfect in this fight and just wanted to get my fault right out there in front for all to see. I am also a flawed character, overly cynical and aggressive, angry and dismissive. I rarely spout bits of hope or optimism. I feel that if you see the world and don’t get urges to grab a rifle and head to the woods you are delusional and doomed.

When I was a young my father took me to the woods. The whole clan, Mom, Dad, sister, and brother in the cab of a Ford pick-up. This was long before the days that any self respecting midwesterner would drive an extended cab “truck”. My mother had reupholstered the wide bench seat with free fabric from work, a small paisley pattern on black background.

The truck would be a sight in any regular city. The formerly silver body was missing most of its clear coat and had resigned to be a simple gray. Large white and rust tool boxes hugged all sides of the 8 foot bed and a sheet of ancient plywood covered the floor-free and cheap and more durable than spray in liner is what dad said. Topping it off is the large welded ladder rack, often strapped with an assortment of long tools, ladders and extra lumber. It was just like every other truck I knew.

We rolled the windows down and sweat like pigs in the heat. The air in michigan gains a tropical quality in summer. There is no escape from its hundred percent humidity and hundred degree heat other than fast vehicles with open windows and cold cokes. We covered ground swiftly and got to an old farm house in an hour or so. A few other trucks sat on the dirt driveway and grassy yard like hound dogs on a porch in the appalachia, just soaking the sun and looking beautifully functional. I knew them all as uncles and friends trucks. Nobody drove a car because gas was cheap and cars were useless. Even Uncle Kevin manages to pack his whole clan of three boys and a wife into a truck somehow. Seatbelt laws were not on the books.

I was only a few feet tall then but looked quite dandy in my T-ball shirt and “I’d rather be fishing” hat. I ran around the yard with the men, wading a sea of redwing books and denim pants. They all wore leather belt with belt buckles proclaiming allegiance to various tool companies, from Grizzly to Husqvarne. The heat was oppressive but not a pair of shorts or shaved face was to be found. These are the men I have been trying to emulate and avoid all my life.

The girls all fell into normal rolls, chatting and arranging the display of casseroles, fruit salads and sugary treats. It was every bit the classic middle american dream afternoon. But the men had plans, and we suited up for the woods. We collected chains and cables, grabbed the lone axe and arsenal of saws. Big spitting grimy scary weapons, chain saws stripped of safety features and purely utilitarian. Their orange bodies were covered in oil and flakes of long dead and milled trees. The thin bar covers were worn at the tips, letting small metal hooks come out and grab your clothes and skin.

We went is the woods and spread out. Men made small groups and went to respective trees. My father and I took his smaller saw and tromped through dead leaves and grasses looking for a certain tree. The tree he wanted, that he needed for a project. He spoke of it with a quiet reverence, describing the curled trunk and large fruit.

The land I grew up in is a series of patchwork fields. Corn and soy bean and cherries and apples and pigs and cows, with fence rows and wooded lots breaking the agriculture. It’s in the earliest of these fence rows that we found the tree. An osage orange tree big around as a trash can and gnarled in all directions. My father stooped down and grabbed the large green fruit, rolling it slowly around in his square fingered hands.

We talked a bit about how the settlers planted these trees to keep the cows in without artificial fences, how the tangled branches made a living fencerow with no need for maintenance. He told me about the bright yellow wood, it’s density and beauty. We sat and looked for birds and squirrels, him identifying them with skill I have never been able to replicate. Then he fired up the saw and tore into the fibrous bark. Flakes of wood shot over him, the yellow hunks carpeting his blaze orange saw chaps. It was acceptable to remove the anti-kick back devices from a saw, but to not wear a pair of kevlar chaps was idiotic. The sweet smell of bar lube and fresh wood filled the air. In a few short hours we had a few logs worth milling and a pile of the hottest and longest burning wood available.

Dad made a few fruit bowls and shaker boxes from that tree. He also made the rungs of a rocking chair from it, creating the most functional, light weight, and elegant piece of furniture I have ever seen. The woods were a resource and a commodity. We were given that tree for free, as it would soon be bulldozed for another subdivision of million dollar homes. We took what we could before the developer took everything.

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